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Valentine's Dinner Challenge: Help Me!

We're broke, and will be having Valentine's dinner at home this year (we don't particularly like to fight the crowds, anyway). I'd love to have CH's help in figuring out what to make. Would love dessert and main course ideas. Here are the parameters:
1. Two adults, a 10 year old, and a toddler. They aren't hugely picky, and we never cook meals specially for them, but having something on the menu they might like is always a plus.
2. I work that day, and won't get home until 6:30, but am off work the day before, so either prepping ahead or a short prep time is essential. Crock pot is fine.
3. (The big one) I don't want to go shopping, so am looking to make something special out of what I have in the kitchen. Assume a well-stocked pantry, all the basics, and the following specific items:
-Thick cut pork chops
-Whole chickens
-Tilapia
-Chicken Apple Sausage
-Bacon
-Acorn Squash
-Spaghetti Sqash
-Apples, bananas, avocado
-Corn and Flour Tortillas
-Frozen Roasted Poblana Chiles
-Lots of dried beans, pasta
-Lots of inexpensive wine, and a good bottle of Pinot Noir to have with the meal-other alcohol to cook with
-Hearts of Romaine
-Carrots, Celery, green onions
-new potatoes
-some fresh herbs (mint, sage, oregano, thyme)
-cheese and milk (sharp cheddar, dubliner, mozzarella)
-plain yogurt and sour cream
-eggs

Throw your favorites at me! I've been home with a sick toddler for a week and am feeling horribly uninspired.

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  1. Okay, none of these are crock potted but you can fix ahead of time for some.

    Pick and choose or use them all!

    BROILED TILAPIA WITH PARMESAN -

    Broil your tilapia filets until just about done. Have ready the following mix to top with during the last 2 minutes of broiling (prepare the "mix" ahead of time): Grated parmesan (fresh is better but nothing wrong with the green cannister or you could try one of your harder cheeses shredded), butter, mayo, lemon juice, basil, pepper, celery salt, onion powder to taste. About 2 min before tilapia is done, pull the filets out and smother then with this mixture. Throw them back in the oven. After the final 2 min broiling, pull them out and serve. Yummy crust wakes up this sometimes bland fish.

    HERBED NEW POTATO SALAD

    Mix up your cooked/cooled new potatos with a yogurt/mayo blend, mint or any other herbs you choose. Nothing nicer than a new potato. Serve cold or hot depending on what you put in it. Add some fried bacon if you feel like porking it up. Sing "Sum-Sum-Summertime, Sum-Sum-Summertime" to feel like you are on a picnic.

    MARINATED PENNY CARROTS
    DEFINITELY do the day or two before. The longer they sit and marinate, the better they are!

    Clean, cook and slice the carrots (however many you need for serving whoever is eating). Cook carrots in microwave approx. 5 min or so - get them cooked through but NOT mushy. Should still be crunchy.

    Here is your marinade. You will have to eyeball it to see how much you need depending on how many carrots you will be serving:

    Bring to a boil in a saucepan:

    1/2-3/4 cup tomato soup (Campbell's is fine)
    DRY mustard - just a pinch for a few servings.
    1/8 cup (?) of vegetable oil
    Some cut up green pepper and onion
    1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar (depending on how sour you like your carrots)
    1/4 tablespoon of Worcestire (sp?) sauce

    After this has come to the boil, let it cool then add it to the carrots. Let sit in the fridge - up to 3 days. Tastes best after at least ONE day sitting in the fridge. Serve cold.

    APPLE TART

    You can use your flour tortillas for these. Hopefully they are the 6 inch size.

    Preheat oven to about 400 degrees or so.

    Core and slice very thinly for each person ONE apple apiece. Leave peel on or off as you like. Throw it in a bowl with some lemon juice to coat the apple pieces.

    Put your tortilla on a non-stick cookie sheet. Spread the apple mixture evenly on the tortillas. Sprinkle with about 1/2 tablespoon of sugar (you can use straight white, straight brown or 1/2 and 1/2), some nutmeg and cinnamon.

    Throw in the oven for about 12-15 min, or until it is cooked and tortilla is golden. Don't let it burn! Let cool and top with whipped cream, brown sugar or vanilla ice cream.

    None of these are "world class romancers" but they are decent eats based on what you have around. Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: TwoPointers

      Wow-thanks for the comprehensive response. It all sounds fabulous. And I do have a wedge of decent parmesan!

    2. Surely you have garlic too.
      Then you can make Roasted Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves. Got this recipe from The Union Square Cafe cook book and tweaked it a bit.
      Thyme, Sage, Kosher salt, Rosemary, Black Pepper
      Rub on chicken with a little olive oil

      place in cavity 4 Lemon Quarters
      Bake in Dutch oven with 1 Cup whole peeled Garlic Cloves
      1 Cup White Wine from shelf
      1 ½ Cups Chicken Broth, stir to mix. Heat oven to 375º Cover and roast for 25 minutes. Increase oven temp to 450º, uncover and roast until chicken reaches internal temp of 165º - about another 35- 50 minutes. Occasionally check to be sure there is liquid in the pan, add more if necessary. Cut the chicken into serving pieces and spoon pan juices and garlic over. Go to the store and get some great Rustic Bread to sop up the sauce and spread the garlic cloves on. Make a nice salad with a lot of your other ingredients.
      Cheers!

      1 Reply
      1. re: GIAD

        Oh, I absolutely always have garlic-consider that a pantry basic. This sounds amazing, too, and I've never made a great roasted garlic chicken. Would be good with no knead bread, which is super easy.

      2. Here is a link for one of our favorites for spaghetti squash

        http://books.google.com/books?id=zLHb...

        I do a couple of things differently-whole grain mustard with a bit of honey, a bit more garlic and vinegar. I've not had roasted red peppers and either omitted them or roasted my own. I've even subbed corn for the butter (lima) beans, my husband loved this "accident".

        All of the nieces and nephews love this and there are some picky eaters in the bunch.

        Edit to add-I usually serve this with grilled pork chops, bread and a salad.

        2 Replies
        1. re: hipquest

          Wow-that's a completely different way of serving spaghetti squash....I love the idea.

          1. re: girlwonder88

            It's also very good as a chilled salad. I just emulsify the vinaigrette and add to the cooled veggies.

            Please let us know how your dinner went and what you served.

        2. You could do a pseudo-coq au vin in the crockpot. The problem w/ using the crockpot is that you have to do prep beforehand so you'd have to wake up early. I'd cut the chicken into parts. Slice bacon and cook, remove bacon. In fat, brown chicken pieces (I like to dredge them in seasoned flour first). Add to crockpot. In same pan, sautee chopped carrots, celery, onions, garlic. Add to crockpot. Deglaze w/ red wine and chicken broth. Add seasonings (thyme, parsley, bay leaves, salt, pepper, whatever you want). On top of it all, carefully place cut potatoes. Cook on low all day (or even better on low for 5-6 hours and then have it on warm). When you get home, remove the potatoes and mash. If coq au vin is soupy, remove chicken, put remaining in pot and boil on stove until thickened. Add side salad and serve chicken over mashed potatoes.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            That sounds yummy-and I'm wondering if I could prep it the night before and put it in the crockpot in the morning, since you add everything to the crockpot at the same time. I've done that before-prepped everything and kept the whole crockpot insert in the fridge overnight.

            1. re: girlwonder88

              I wouldn't braise chicken and not cook it through the night before. Partially cooked meat isn't safe and you have little ones which makes it more dangerous (this issue comes up here and a lot of chowhounds don't worry about it but I err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety and children). You could do the bacon, vegetables and deglaze the night before and refrigerate. You don't have to brown the chicken, though I find it makes big difference. You could just put it in in the morning and add the bacon, sauteed vegetables, sauce in the morning. In that case, I'd probably sautee the vegetables, add a little flour and then deglaze so it thickens somewhat while in the crockpot.

          2. I've also been home with a sick toddler, so I sympathize! The poor doodle has a stomach bug, so who knows what she'll want to eat on Thursday.

            To me, the most important part of Valentine's dinner is dessert. Pudding made from scratch with good-quality chocolate is fantastic. You can make it a day ahead, and you probably have everything you need -- milk, sugar, corn starch, chocolate and/or cocoa, and vanilla. I can post a recipe, but you probably will find more than one if you look through your cookbooks.

            Another good winter dessert is bread pudding. I love what the Joy of Cooking (1997) has to say about them: "Unlike many desserts, bread puddings accept a wide range of substitutions and additions." Excellent choice for working with what you have on hand. You can assemble a bread pudding the day before (the longer soak helps the flavors blend), and put it in the oven just before you sit down to dinner.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jlafler

              Yesterday, after she threw up (we're going on a week now), all she would eat for most of the day was ketchup. I think I am going to be kicked off these boards.

              And you're right, dessert is the thing. I adore a good chocolate pudding, esp adding orange to Epicurious' double chocolate pudding. I did just make that last week, but it's quick and easy and everyone loves it, so if I run out of energy, that may be our dessert.